Smartmatic pitch: Buy our tech now, save billions in next polls

By Reynaldo Santos Jr., Newsbreak

Posted at Jun 15 2010 08:05 PM | Updated as of Jun 16 2010 07:09 AM

MANILA, Philippines—Election machine provider Smartmatic started its marketing offensive Tuesday by pitching to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) the idea of buying now the technology they used in the just-concluded presidential and local elections, so the poll body can save billions in the succeeding exercises.

In a press conference upon the arrival of its Ambassador for Transparency, Miss Universe 2008 Dayana Mendoza, the Venezuelan firm said the Philippine government only need to spend around P2 billion to buy the technology from Smartmatic, so it will have to spend only around P3 billlion for services (like transporting the machines) in the next 4 elections.

Buy now, save later

The synchronized national and local elections are held in the Philippines every 3 years, with the presidential polls conducted simultaneously every 6 years. In between, in 5-year intervals, barangay or village elections are held nationwide.

In this year's presidential, national, and local elections, the Comelec spent P8 billion for the technology it leased from Smartmatic, including the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) and the central canvassing system (CCS). It then spent P3 billion for the services.

A total of P11 billion was spent for the first nationwide automated polls in the country.

Cesar Flores, Smartmatic president for Asia-Pacific, explained that if Comelec buys the technology now, it will spend only P4-5 billion in each of the succeeding elections--saving P6-7 billion every time, based on the P11-billion cost of the 2010 elections.

"Let's say [the current budget is] P11 billion. That's P44 billion in 4 elections. If you buy the technology now, it's P2 billion. So all you have to pay for is the service. That's about P4-5 billion. Let's say P5 billion, that's P20 billion. So there are already P20 billion savings in the next election," Flores explained.

Recommendations to Comelec

Flores explained that the same technology used in the 2010 elections are "purpose-specific" and can still be used for coming elections. "Elections are not changing, and the system will do the same operations over and over again," he said.

Flores added that only a software upgrade would be needed to make the same system operational for the next elections.

Smartmatic said there's value in the fact that it is already familiar with the electoral task required in the Philippines. He explained that they have already trained people, particularly the Comelec and the public, in the technology they have provided. "We don't have to start from scratch," he said.

He also said that they are already working on recommendations and improvements needed for automating the next national elections. Smartmatic will be submitting to the Comelec by September this year its recommendations, which focused on 10 major areas.

Flores, however, refused to reveal these recommendations to reporters. “I would not want to advance this before Comelec,” he said.

Familiar system

The poll body, meanwhile, seems to show favor to Smartmatic’s participation in the 2010 polls.

In an earlier press conference, Comelec commissioner Gregorio Larazzabal told reporters that the PCOS machines used in the recent polls are still ideal to be used in the next polls.

The poll body official explained that both the poll body and the public are already familiar with the system, making it a preferred choice for coming elections.

This is despite proofs of electoral fraud lately revealed by various watchdogs, IT specialists, and civil society, which put the credibility of Smartmatic and the PCOS machines to question.

"We're very affront since day 1 that there will be problems. But we kept with our commitment,” Flores said, maintaining that the recent election was still a success. "The fact that you only have a few handful of election protests, it means the election was a success,” he explained.

Although denying that its purpose of bringing here the Venezuelan Miss Universe is to help clear its name, Smartmatic is bringing the beauty queen to a meeting with Comelec commissioners on Wednesday.

Mendoza, upon arrival, expressed her desire to meet President-elect Benigno Aquino III, whose administration will decide any further deals with Smartmatic. -